Is Marvel Making A Mistake By Not Re-Issuing Truth: Red, White & Black in Conjunction With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has received plenty of praise—and justifiably so—for addressing the issue of racism in America. It is rare for a mainstream, popular television show to deal seriously with social issues, especially within the comics or action-adventure genre (Watchmen is a notable exception as well). The show looks both at the issue from both a macro perspective, with its discussion of whether the United States is ready for a black Captain America, and a micro level, with touching personal scenes, such as the Wilson family’s struggle to get a loan. It has dealt with the issue from both a historical perspective (addressing medical experiments on black prisoners) as well as a current-events perspective (Sam’s encounter with police in Baltimore), but perhaps the most compelling storyline in this vein is the story of Isaiah Bradley, the first black Captain America.

After seeing the second episode of the series, I immediately looked up the comics in which Isaiah Bradley first appears. That research led me to the miniseries: Truth: Red, White & Black (Morales/Baker). I had not known about the series previously, which isn’t surprising since, for a while now, I’ve most of my comics as a trade paperback, and, as of right now, there is no trade paperback—or any print version of the comics—currently available.

I believe Marvel Comics is making a mistake by not releasing Truth: Red, White, & Black as a trade paperback. I can’t be the only one interested in reading it, after seeing the Isaiah Bradley character on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I stopped by my local comics shop today and asked for it, and they said it wasn’t issued as a trade, and that obtaining the single issues would be “very expensive.” A quick search on eBay revealed I would have to spend a minimum of $100 dollars to purchase a complete, readable set. Now, there is an electronic version available on Amazon for kindle, but I prefer to read comics on paper, and I know I’m not the only one.

Given the popularity of the show, as well as the current events of the day, I would assume that a miniseries about the first black Captain America with a tie in to a current, popular show would do very well. I would pay 20 bucks to read it. I’m interested in the concept, as well as in the plot point when Bradley encounters the medical experiments the Nazi’s performed on Jews (mentioned in the plot summary). As a person of Jewish descent, that type of storyline is one that I not only find interesting, but with which I empathize. I also believe that many Americans who might not have been taught about the US government’s experiments on black prisoners have been taught about the atrocities of the holocaust, and that this story line would help them empathize as well. It seems like a great teaching opportunity, and a great choice by the creative team, one that can show how comics can be used as medium to address serious issues and affect social change.

I am not in position, however to spend 100+ dollars on a comics series, much less on one by a creative team whom I’ve never read.

The decision not to release a print edition—and not to market the digital version—is even more puzzling considering that with proper marketing, Marvel could, most likely make money of the rerelease. The story sounds compelling; it’s tied in to a popular, current show, and it deals with a character about whom many fans probably want to know more. Moreover, it would allow people to further explore the important issues raised by the show, and direct them back to the source material, get fans of comic book-based properties to read actual comic books. I can’t be the only one, right?  

What am I missing?

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Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connections, Panel 1 Wins Anthology of the Year in the Independent Creator Awards

I am thrilled and honored to announce that the Comic Book School Presents: Creator Connections, Panel 1 Anthology, which I coedited along with Dee Alley, recently won “Anthology of the Year” at the Independent Creator Awards. The comics and flash fiction anthology, which is available for free download on the Comic Book School web site, also includes two pieces which I wrote, Mr. Stupendous, a comics story illustrated by Arielle Lupkin, and The Duel, illustrated by Mike Ponce.

In addition, one of the other short stories, Ragnarok Comes, written by Kris Burgos and Illustrated by JP Vilches, won the awards for best one-off comics short.

You can read official Comic Book School Press release below, which includes information about signing up for the second annual 8-Page Challenge, which will lead to the publication of our second comics and flash fiction anthology.

Comic Book School Takes Home Multiple Independent Creator Awards

The Indie Comics Community honored the creators of Comic Book School with multiple Independent Creator Awards, including Best Anthology and Best Short Story/One Shot.  Comic Book School congratulates the creators who contributed to the Creator Connections, Panel 1 anthology—especially writer Kris Burgos and artist J. P. Vilchis for their victory for short story Ragnarok Come—and thanks the members of the independent comics community for supporting the anthology with their votes.

The award-winning anthology can be downloaded for free on the Comic Book School website.

“This shows what people can do when they work together, support each other, and focus on what they want to accomplish,” Buddy Scalera, the founder of Comic Book School and the anthology’s publisher, said. “The work in the anthology speaks for itself, and we are honored that it has been recognized by our peers in the indie comics community.”

“The award is validation for me,” said Kris Burgos, who wrote Ragnarok Comes. “After years of telling stories, it’s good to know people are listening and enjoying them. I also know I’m not completely crazy telling stories to myself and having hundreds of characters conversations in my head.”

The anthology was the culmination of the “8-Page Challenge” from Comic Book School, in which creators were challenged to create 8-page comics stories from start-to-finish over the course of a year. They were mentored through the challenge by Scalera and industry pros from his network, as well as through a peer-review process on the Comic Book School Forums. 

“The one-year anthology curriculum represents an educational journey 20 years in the making,” Scalera said. “The experience has made us better comics creators and has strengthened our professional networks. It is a natural extension of the Creator Connections panel, and builds on our vision to help people learn the craft and business of making comics.”

The Independent Creator Awards are given annually by Comic Book Advocates to honor the best creators and creations in the independent comics world in four broad categories: Art, Crowdfunding, Words, and Creation. This year, the awards were determined by popular vote among members of the independent comics world in a series of polls posted in a private Facebook group from the beginning of the year through March 14.  

“The awards were put together to celebrate the spirit of indie creation,” said Rob Andersin, indie comics advocate and creator of The Independent Comics Awards. “The tenacity and courage of indie creators should be celebrated. While awards may sound silly to some, the ability to be seen during awards season has led people to collaboration—and yes, a little competitiveness—that all leads to more shine on all independent creators when people see what we have to offer after a year of hard work.”

Despite the recognition, the creators of the Comic Book School community are not resting on their laurels. The second annual 8-page challenge is currently underway. Interested creators can join the challenge by visiting the Comic Book School Forums at .

Coffee With Skullgate

Check out my appearance on Coffee With Skullgate in which Skullgate editor in chief, Chris Van Dyke compares my writing to James Joyce. We also talk about genre, science fiction, comics, and the new Skullgate anthology, Under New Suns, which includes my short story “I am I.”.

On WandaVision and Building Audience Trust

You’ve got to hook your audience from the beginning, is one of the most common pieces of writing advice out there. Your first paragraph, the first 5 minutes of a show or movie, page one of your comics story, that’s all you get before your audience makes a decision about whether or not to continue to engage with your creative project. For the most part, this is true—except when it isn’t.

There are many lists of great first lines in literature, from Charles Dickens, to Ralph Ellison, to William Gibson, and agents, by and large, ask for the first few pages of a novel—and only the first few pages—as part of the standard pitch packet. It’s a tried and true strategy that’s worked from Homer’s epics through the modern Bond movie formula…

…And then there’s WandaVision.

WandaVison began with a two-episode premier that viewers found confusing and slow. Many of my friends—especially those who were not familiar with the source comics—told me that they were “completely lost” after watching that first hour of the Disney+ television program. And yet, they kept watching. Now, the show’s viewership is so large that it’s threatening The Mandalorian as the most popular show on the streaming service, and reaction to the series—and to the slow-burn build—as been overwhelmingly positive.

Why did the audience stay? According to conventional wisdom with which I opened this blog, they should not have. Sure, some die-hard comics readers would have (they always do, even when they don’t like a program if only to have something about-which to complain), but that doesn’t account for the massive general audience.

I believe that the reason everyone stayed is trust. People stuck with the show because they believed in Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After two-dozen movies, which brought comics characters into the mainstream like never before, the audience was willing to sit through the slow burn of the first few episodes because they trusted that the payoff was going to come. People like my wife, who hadn’t read a comic in over 20 years, liked the Scarlet Witch and wanted to find out what was going on with her, and trusted that, if her story fit into the storytelling universe that they loved, it was bound to be good. They stuck with the show, and they, thus far, have been rewarded.

It would be foolhardy to start a creative universe with a program like WandaVision. Even if it was good, there wouldn’t be enough people who would stick with it if it proved to be difficult to access. It was a smart move to open with a fairly conventional super hero movie like Iron Man. Once trust has been established, however, it frees the creative team to try different storytelling methods.

This concept is not unique to WandaVision. James Joyce’s work, for example follows a similar pattern. Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, while critically acclaimed, are much more conventional than Ulysses (to say nothing of Finnegan’s Wake).

As writers, we should all hope to, eventually, build the kind of trust with our readers that would free us to try different storytelling styles and to pace the action as we see fit. Until then, we should all continue to search for that perfect first line.

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Revealed: Frankenstein’s Monster’s Name!

People who run in literary circles are fond of pointing out that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor* in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, not the monster. They revel in pedantically correcting people who refer to the monster as Frankenstein to such a great extent that anyone who is reading this blog has either corrected someone or been corrected by someone on this very point. But what is the creature’s (for such he is most commonly called in the novel) actual name? I’m sorry to say—and this will really tick off the literary types—it’s probably Frankenstein.

Allow me to explain: The titular character in the novel is the human scientist Frankenstein. He is the obvious protagonist, the tragic Romantic genius, the modern Prometheus, etc. This fact is not in dispute, and it is obvious to anyone who has read the novel. But Frankenstein is the doctor’s last name. His first name is Victor. His name follows the traditional western convention where his first name, Victor is his personal name, and Frankenstein, his last name, is his family name. He has inherited his last name from his father, Alphonse Frankenstein. Most of the other characters in the novel follow the same conventions, including Robert Walton Henry Clerval, Elizabeth Lavenza, etc.  Even the characters who are not identified as having both a first and a last name in the novel, are named with either a fist name or a last name. Presumably, they have the missing half as well. A character like Mr. Kirwin, for example, most likely has a first name even if it’s not related in the novel.

Now the creature, famously, is not given a name by Victor Frankenstein upon his creation. He is rejected and cast out, a fact which he laments later in the novel. But even through he doesn’t have a first name, the very fact that his creator is named Frankenstein would, likely, make his last name Frankenstein. True, he does not have a biological father as he is a hodgepodge of parts from various humans, but had the doctor raised and trained him to be part of society, legally—or at least by convention—his last name would, most likely be Frankenstein. When the doctor disowns him, he does not lose that appellation. The creature, himself, would have to disavow the name himself, which he never specifically does, and which, at least the first half of the story he would not likely do, given his characterization. Thus, while the monster’s does not have a first name, his last name, is, most likely, Frankenstein.

To quote one of the greatest anti-pedants of all time, “How do you like them apples?”

Like the famous philosopher Descartes, I welcome well-reasoned challenges in the comments.

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* Nowhere in the novel is Victor Frankenstein identified as “doctor.Calling him “doctor” engages in the exact same kind of conflation of the movie and the novel that leads people to call the monster Frankenstein.

42 Loosely Connected Thoughts About Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Last week one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy celebrated its 42nd birthday. For fans of the book, the significance of this anniversary needs no explanation. (If you are unaware of the reference, stop reading this blog post and pick up a copy of the novel—go ahead, I won’t be offended; Come back after you’ve read it). Douglas Adams birthday was a few days ago, and, either of those days would have been the perfect time to write about my love for the series, Adams work in general, and its influence on me as a writer. Since I do not have a time machine, and, therefore, cannot travel back a few days and willant ont have written the post then, I must rely on one of Adam’s most famous quotes about writing to justify my subject matter today.

“I love deadlines,” Adams said. “I like the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

As such, here is my tribute to Mr. Adams and his work, as well its far-reaching and multi variegated influence on my life and work. What follows are 42 random thoughts from the infinite improbability drive known as my brain.

  1. I first read The Hitchhiker’ Guide To The Galaxy as a freshman in college. More than anything else that happened to me that year, it would prove to be the most important thing that happened to me that school year.
  2. Many of the friends that I met that year were hoopy froods, though I will admit that only a few really knew were their towels were.
  3. I met my wife in the summer following that school year, so I will not get into trouble with her for the above statement. The following year was her freshman year of college.
  4. At the time, she had never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  5. I soon corrected that gap in her education. It is now one of her favorite books as well.
  6. In Columbia, where I went to college, a group called the philolexian society holds a bad poetry competition. The competition is officially a tribute to the poet Joyce Kilmer, a former Columbia philolexian who duped the literary world by writing what he believed was bad poetry. Kilmer created a pseudonym, as well as a whole backstory about his fictional persona who was supposed to be homeless man living in a water tower on the roof a New York City apartment building.
  7. The bad poetry contest, despite being named for Kilmer, was widely known to be inspired by the Vogon bad poetry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
  8. I had a friend—a big Douglas Adams fan—who was a philolexian. She asked me to enter the contest because she knew I was majoring in writing.
  9. That same friend once met Douglas Adams and asked him to sign a towel. This is the most brilliant author signing story I’ve ever heard.
  10. Adams thought it was brilliant as well, and my friend parlayed his admiration for the gesture into an internship at Adams company, where she worked on—and appeared as a character in—the text-based video game for Starship Titanic.
  11. My entries into the bad poetry contest were well-received, but they did not win. I was much better at writing funny parodies of famous poetry than writing really bad poetry.
  12. One of my ideas for the bad poetry contest, a parody of Macbeth, is something that I kept and continued to work on.
  13. A more-fully developed version, which focused more on the comedy and less on the poetry, ended up being chosen as a winner in last years Serious Flash Fiction contest.
  14. You can purchase a copy of the winners anthology here. I believe my Macbeth parody is the second funniest piece in the anthology.
  15. After the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I wanted more books in that vein. The recommendation which followed (from my friend the philolexian) was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
  16. I would not have read either of them had I not first read Douglas Adams.
  17. I have read more words by Terry Pratchett than by any other author, and often cite him as a major influence on my work.
  18. I have heard Neil Gaiman, another major influence, read live six times.
  19. I met him during a signing after the first time. I told him how much I admired his writing, and the Stardust was the kind of book I wished I’d written. He responded by saying he wrote it because he wanted to read a book like that and that nobody had written it.
  20. This was highly encouraging to me as a young writer. It really boosted my confidence.
  21. Because of the last few thoughts,and because they kept publishing books after Adams had stopped,  I often listed Pratchett and Gaiman as two of my greatest influences when the subject came up. I would cite them before Adams, and often leave Adams off the list entirely. This was a mistake.
  22. A few years ago, I re-read the Dirk Gently books in anticipation of the show which was soon to air on BBC America. Upon reading that book, I realized that my writing—at least my comedic writing–was actually more heavily influenced by Adams than by virtually any other author, Pratchett and Gaiman included.
  23. Much like them, I was writing with Adams voice in the back of my head. Re-reading it, it was clear as day, even if I had forgotten whose voice I was actually listening to.
  24. My story “Darkness My Old Friend” which originally appeared on Hawk and Young’s blog was compared (by Young, of Hawk and Young) to both Pratchett and Adams. It is the nicest thing anyone has ever published about my writing. (Really! Click the link and scroll down to his thoughts about the story.
  25. He also compared it to Asimov, but that is the subject of another blog post.
  26. Reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency also reminded me of my love for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who figures prominently in the novel.
  27. Since that time, I have had more poetry than prose published. My poetry tends to be formal, metered and rhyming, influenced by the Romantics, Coleridge chief among them.
  28. Recently, however, I have been writing a lot more satire in the Douglas Adams vein.
  29. Current events have made it such that most comfortable way I can respond to the world I see around me is through humor.
  30. Unless I, like Arthur Dent, could ask whatever god is running things to step outside for a fight, only to watch him plunge thousands of feet to his demise.
  31. I often wonder how Adams would respond to today’s world.
  32. He would have a field day with social media and so-called-smart phones, I’m sure.
  33. On second thought, we tried that whole incompetent celebrity president thing and it didn’t work out so well.
  34. On third thought, Zaphod Beeblebrox was kept isolated from the important aspects of government in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. He is not allowed to govern as he would only screw things up and get in the way.
  35. Besides, we shouldn’t be using satire as a model for how we run our society. Maybe that’s how our section of the galaxy became so unfashionable.
  36. I would, however, vote for a hooloovoo over anyone running right now.
  37. And I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect sandwich knife.
  38. And I’ve used the babel-fish prove of the non-existence of god as part of a lesson on Kierkegaard for high school students
  39. I am experiencing a lot of fear and trembling right now over the state of the world–so much so, that I might make Marvin look like an optimist.
  40. But I suspect if Douglas Adams was still alive, he would look at the state of the world, and react much like the oft-overlooked bowl of petunias that accompanies the whale on its descent toward the planet Magrathea: “Oh no, not again.”
  41. He would probably tell us to keep calm, wash our hands, and above all, “Don’t Panic!”
  42. Thank you for reading. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

Whither The Witch: Finding the “Dark Lady” in Fantasy Literature

Oftentimes, in this blog, I will share a passage from a book that I’m reading to illustrate a lesson about writing. Today, I would like to share a book excerpt for an entirely different reason. Something I read recently, in a book that I’m enjoying otherwise, doesn’t seem right to me, and as such, I would like to ask you, my community of readers, for your opinion about the passage in question.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones, is a satirical travel guide to Fantasyland, the mythical world where all fantasy stories take place. After a generic fantasy map and a brief introduction, the bulk of the book consists of a glossary of the common terms, peoples, species, magic, buildings, etc. which one is likely to encounter as a “tourist” who finds themselves in a fantasy story.

Jones is a very funny writer, and if you are either a reader or writer of fantasy stories, you will likely enjoy her parodies and criticisms of common fantasy tropes, such as the prevalence of stew in fantasyland (at the expense of other culinary options) and the paucity of cattle compared to the amount of clothing made from leather. For the most part, I found myself laughing along with the loving critique, remembering these clichés in stories I’ve read, and analyzing my own writing to see how many I, myself, employ.

There was, however, one entry that did not jibe with my experience reading fantasy literature: In her entry entitled “Dark Lady,” Jones writes, “There is never one of these, so see DARK LORD instead. The management considers that male Dark Ones have more potential to be sinister…” (P50; see pic for full entry).

When I read this, my mind immediately leapt to Jadis, AKA the White Witch, from CS Lewis’ famous The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. Jadis is both the main antagonist in the most famous of the Narnia books, and, as she represents the devil in Lewis’ allegory, she is the personification of evil. While she is described a “white” witch because she covers Narnia in snow and ice, her behavior, power, and function certainly qualify her as a “dark lady.”

Was Lewis unique in his use of a “dark lady” antagonist? He most certainly was not. In the previous generation of fantasy literature, female antagonists were common. Both Alice in Wonderland (1865) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) feature female antagonists, and, while the Lewis Carrol’s Queen of Hearts doesn’t fit the stereotype exactly, L. Frank Baum’s Wicked Witch of the West certainly does. The witch, who performs evil magic, lives in a dark castle, and has legions of terrifying minions, tries to thwart a questing party from achieving its goal and rules the land largely through terror. Functionally, she is similar to Tolkien’s Sauron (or any other standard Dark Lord.

Classical literature, too, is filled with a myriad of women who function as “Dark Ladies” in their respective stories. Whether they are goddesses, like Circe, witches, like Medea, or displaced divinities, like the furies, female villains are at least as common as their male counterparts in the mythic tradition which inspires much of fantasy literature.

Additionally, there are many instances of “Dark Ladies” in classic fairy tales, which if they are not technically fantasy literature, are definitely close cousins. The Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, which contains many elements of fantasy (magic sword and shield, dragon, hero as knight, royalty in disguise) features Maleficent, who is a prime example of the Dark Lady archetype.

I did have a bit more trouble coming up with more modern female Dark Ladies. Kossil from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tomb of Atuan (1970) comes to mind, but I can’t think of many others. Whether this is because they fell out of favor after the 50s when Narnia was written, or whether this is the result of a gap in my own reading, I do not know. I do know that there are many contemporary examples where an older story featuring a “dark lady” is rewritten from her perspective (Wicked, etc.). That these books exist, however, negates Jones’ claim that such characters are missing from the fantasy canon.

Now, I realize that satirical writing in general, and Jones’ book in particular, are subject to hyperbole, but given the relative veracity of the criticisms of fantasy literature in the rest of the Tough Guide, the “Dark Lady” entry seems incorrect and out of place.

So, my questions to you are as follows: First, can you think of any examples of the “Dark Ladies” in the fantasy literature of the latter part of the 20th Century? Second, was there something that changed in the fantasy landscape that caused this alleged switch which seems to go against the history of the genre? And, lastly, who are your favorite “Dark Ladies” in fantasy literature from any era (and why do you like them)?

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

A Birthday Tribute To Isaac Asimov (And Not Exclusively To His Science Fiction)

Today is Isaac Asimov’s 100th Birthday, and while it is also World Science Fiction Day because he was born on this day, I would like to draw your attention to some of the grand master’s other, non-science-fiction writing.

Like many of you, I was introduced to the science fiction genre through Asimov’s writing. Caves of Steel was the first hard science fiction book I read, and everything I’ve read and written in the genre since can be traced back to the day when my father gave me that book as a present when he returned from his latest business trip. I could easily write a blog explaining how that book—and the themes contained therein—influenced me personally, and science fiction in general, but I imagine, that if you have any interest in Asimov at all, you’ve read your share of those kind of articles today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on a different aspect of Asimov’s prodigious canon. Asimov wrote widely and prolifically, about many subjects, not just science fiction, and not even just fiction. Some of you may have encountered Asimov’s books about science fact before. Certain elementary and middle school teachers use these texts to try to get students interested in learning about science. “You enjoy reading his work about fake robots and space ships,” the say, “you might enjoy his writing about real robots and outer space.”  

Fewer of you, I’d venture a guess, are familiar with Asimov’s literary analysis. Books like Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Asimov’s Paradise Lost Annotated are excellent study guides that provide insight, excellent, and analyses, As a student, I used Asimov’s Paradise Lost to help me understand Milton’s, and as a teacher I’ve often steered struggling students away from spark and cliff notes and toward Asimov’s texts, which, in my opinion, are vastly superior as study guides (and not unimportantly, are best used in conjunction with, rather than instead of reading the original texts). I have even used quotes from the book as part of my planned lessons.

This is not a blog about teaching, however, at least not about teaching Shakespeare to high school students. It is a blog a about writing, and I believe that we–as writers–can learn a lot about writing from Asimov’s “Guide To” series. The master knew his stuff. He knew enough about science to write a guide to science, and that is part of the reason his science fiction rings so true; he knew enough about literature not only to dissect some of the greatest texts in the history of literature, but also to explain these difficult books to a lay audience clearly and concisely. One can see echoes of the books about which he wrote guide, Shakespeare, Milton, and The Bible, in his science fiction writing, both in terms of plot and in terms of characterization (but that is a subject for another blog post).

In short, Asimov knew about both his craft and his subject matter in a way that few other writers have before or since. While many writers call on their peers to read widely and to “write what you know”, few read as widely or knew as much as Isaac Asimov did.

As writers, it is incumbent upon us to educate ourselves in a similar fashion. While will probably never read as much—or know as much—as the grand master of Science Fiction, we can  likely all do more to improve these areas of our practice than we currently do. In this season of resolutions, let us all resolve, on his birthday, to try to be more like Isaac Asimov.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.

My Pre-view Review of The Rise Of Skywalker: On Star Wars and the Comic Book Guy Effect

A new Star Wars movie comes out today, and, while I haven’t seen it yet (no spoilers, please), I can predict a couple of things about the movie pretty confidently: The fan base will be divided about whether the movie is the “best” or “worst” movie ever, and the truth will, most likely fall somewhere between the two extremes.

“Best” and “Worst” are words that are overused in today’s society, and, even more so in geek culture. Fans of franchises like Star Wars—and by no means exclusively star wars—are enthusiastic about their fandom, and, therefore, it seems, they need to express that enthusiasm with hyperbolic statements about the quality of their movies (or TV shows, or comic books, or novelizations, etc.) to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to have a reasonable, intelligent conversation about the things about which we are all so passionate.

Discussions about Star Wars (and Marvel movies, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, etc) become reduced to two versions of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, with one side yelling, “Best. Movie. Ever.” and the other side, responding with “Worst. Movie. Ever.” followed by a pissing contest about who knows more about the minutiae of trivia relating to the series, leaving everyone angry, and preventing many from enjoying the very things they claim to love.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I have yet to see Rise of Skywalker yet, but I have a hard time believing that it will be better than The Empire Strikes Back (or any of the original trilogy, for that matter) or worse than The Phantom Menace. Is there a chance? I guess there has to be a small one, but the far more likely outcome is that it will fall somewhere in between. There is plenty of room in between those two extremes for the movie to be good, bad or, mediocre.

Recognizing the middle ground is important for a few a reasons: First, it makes it more likely that you as a viewer and as a fan will enjoy the movie. If you go into every movie expecting it to be the best, you will, in most cases be disappointed. Hoping that the movie will be good will let you enjoy it (assuming it is, indeed, good) without it needing to reach the nearly impossible bar of being the best. Conversely, if you go in expecting the worst, and the movie exceeds your expectations, that does not make it, automatically, the best.

Second, if we call everything “the best” and “the worst”, those terms lose meaning. When something arises that is truly great–or truly awful—we will have no language with which to describe it. Once everything is the best or the worst, nothing is.

Third, this type of binary analysis leads to the militant extremism so present in nerd culture (and in wider society, but this is not the venue for that argument) which has arisen in the age of social media. People break into factions, Star Wars or Star Trek; Marvel of Dc; 10 or 11; and end up arguing, and sometimes even ruining friendships, over things about which they should, essentially agree. Subtlety and nuance are lost, and it becomes impossible to have intelligent conversations about anything. To see an example of what this could look like, look at the reaction to the previous Star Wars Movie, The Last Jedi.

So, when you go in to the theater to see The Rise of Skywalker, try to do so not only with an open mind, but with the expectation that it will likely fall somewhere between the two extremes, neither the best, nor the worst, but somewhere in between.

And please, no spoilers. Those are, truly, the worst.

May the force be with you.

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Some Thoughts About Storytelling and Watchmen

I’m going to say this right at the start, so as to avoid confusion later on: I am enjoying the Watchmen HBO show. It is excellent sci-fi. It is well-written, well-acted, and well-produced. It deals with important issues and provides a needed critique of contemporary society in the tradition of other great Science Fiction alternate histories, including, but not limited to the Watchmen graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. If it was an original program without any ties to the greatest graphic novel, I would love it. It is, however, branded as a Watchmen story, and, for me, therein lies the trouble.

I am reluctant to post any critique of the show given the backlash against the way the show raises contemporary issues about race in America. Any critique I have with the show have nothing to do with these issues. I believe that the show does an excellent job as a vehicle for social criticism and that the future it describes is at least as likely in our timeline as it is in the fictional one of The Watchmen. I applaud a mainstream show for seriously discussing and critiquing important things going on in our society.

That said, I’ve been conflicted about Watchmen ever since I first saw it at the New York Comic Con panel. I watched the show, I listened to the show runner, the actors, and even Dave Gibbons, the artist and co-creator of the graphic novel, explain their fidelity to the source material. I understood what they were trying to do, but when I watched the pilot, it did not feel like a Watchmen story to me.

At first I didn’t understand why I felt this way. Here was a show of obviously high quality with creators who spoke about the source material with knowledge and respect. It dealt with important contemporary issues (much like the original graphic novel) which, in my opinion are not discussed enough in modern science fiction, in a thought-provoking way. But still, something about the presentation bothered me; something wasn’t jibing with the source material for me, and I needed to figure out what it was.

After watching the premiere, I decided to reread the graphic novel. And, after my reread and after watching the first two episodes on HBO, I figured it out. The characterization techniques of the book and the show are very different, and, as a writer, I think that’s what bothers me.

The Watchmen graphic novel is dominated by interior monologue. From Rorschach’s diary entries which open the story, to Doctor Manhattan’s monologue explaining the way he sees time in chapter/issue 4 (which in my opinion is the greatest single issue of a comic ever written), to Veidt’s monologue explaining his plan to Nite Owl and Rorschach at the end, we are inside the characters’ head for much of the story. The monologues function in much the same way as Shakespeare’s soliloquies work in his plays: They give us a window into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and we, as readers, are forced to respond both emotionally and intellectually to characters who seem as real as we are. The roundness of Moore’s characters derives from this technique, and his ability to create realistic, true-to-life, complex characters who just happen to be masked superheroes is a large part of what made the original graphic novel so great. This storytelling style, is reminiscent of great literature throughout history, and is a large part of the reason that  Watchmen is so well regarded in the literary world, beyond just the comic book industry. The book won a Hugo award (one of the two major science fiction awards), and was included in Time’s top 100 books. For all the (deserved) praise that Watchmen receives in the comic world for various inside-baseball comics techniques which advanced that industry by leaps and bounds, it is the characterization, which connects it to the literary tradition, which has allowed it to cross-over to success and acclaim in a world beyond comics.

Damon Lindelof’s show exists in a very different reality. Modern-screen (as opposed to on paper) story telling is dominated by external, inderect characterization. The audience is supposed to infer characterization indirectly, through the characters’ actions and through their interaction with each other. Back-story is considered taboo and soliloquy is seen as dated. This attitude can best be seen in David Mamet’s writing. In this letter to the writers of Unit, Mamet decries various expository techniques as “not dramatic” going as far as to say, “ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT” (Caps his). There are large chunks of the graphic novel—most of the scenes with Laurie and Daniel for example—where the characters discuss a third. Does this make Watchmen, the graphic novel “shit”? I think most people would agree that it’s not. But, according to Mamet’s definition, it is, or at least it would be as a screen drama. In his book, The Three Uses of the Knife (which every writer should read if only because of the influence of  Mamet’s ideas) Mamet levels similar criticism against the soliloquy.

Lindelof came up in a world dominated by Mamet’s ideas. Watching his first two episodes, it is clear that he subscribes to Mamet’s ideas about drama and storytelling. There is very little exposition. The viewer is dropped right into an unfamiliar world, with little-to-no insight into the characters’ heads. There are no monologues. No journal entries. Few examples of two characters talking about a third. Just action, action, action—drama in the style for which Mamet advocates, almost to the extreme. That may be why the show works as a TV program, but it also why it feels so different from Watchmen to me, despite the visual call-backs to the original. To me, no shot of blood dripping on a small round object or shot of “The New Frontiersmen” at a newsstand can cover up that difference. The two styles are so antithetical that to me, especially as a writer, they feel like they should not exist in the same story-telling universe. 

Upon reflection and analysis, I have determined that my discomfort with the show stems from this issue. This is why the story doesn’t feel like Watchmen to me.

There is an argument to be made that the difference described above should be ascribed to the difference in medium. Alan Moore himself has made this argument. He does not like when his work is adapted to film in large part because, and he’s stated this in numerous places, that comics and film are different mediums. He believes that different types of stories are successfully in each venue, and that a great comic will not necessarily make a great movie for this reason. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps adapting Watchmen, which trends closer to Dickens than to Mamet in style, is an impossible task, but I don’t believe that is the case. There have been enough successful adaptations of comic books and graphic novels that I believe it can be done well.

While there is no doubt that Mamet is a successful and influential screenwriter, I do not believe his way is the only way. The truth is seldom absolute. There is usually a middle ground. I am not advocating for a straight adaptation in the style of Frank Miller’s largely successful Sin City movie (which kept all of the internal monologue that drove the comic), but some insight into the character’s minds, some insight into Angela Abar’s head would go a long way toward making the show feel more like the book.  Some variance in perspective would be nice as well. The plethora of points a view in the graphic novel is absent from the show as well. The different, morally gray perspectives of Rorschach, Manhattan, Dreiberg, Laurie, and Veidt, is a large part of what made the graphic novel so deep. The show has largely followed Aybar’s perspective, to the exclusion of many other points of view. The Veidt scenes are interesting in that the perspective shift reminds me more of the source material, but I want to see even more points of view.

Again, though it may not seem like it from the above analysis, I do like the show. I am watching every episode. I think the it presents are important and are dealt with in a thought provoking way. I wish more science fiction would engage with them as intelligently. I am enjoying the acting and the mystery. If it did not have the Watchmen name attached to it, the show would be among my favorite current or recent television programs. I also know that name—and my love of the source material—will continue to mean that the show will bother because of the differences from the original in terms of storytelling  and characterization techniques.

Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on twitter and facebook.